Breakthrough: Congress Agrees to Higher Defense Spending

Washington Report

(February 13, 2018) Congress passed and the president signed a budget framework Friday that would hike defense spending by $165 billion over the next two years.

The bipartisan action also raises nondefense spending by $131 billion. Both figures greatly exceed the strict limits on government spending in the Budget Control Act of 2011, but lawmakers and the White House lifted the caps for the sake of an agreement.

However, it does not include the protection Democrats wanted for “dreamers,” illegal immigrants brought to the country while they were children.

President Donald Trump wants to end in early March the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created under President Barack Obama, which would put 700,000 young people at risk of deportation.

Final ratification and the president’s signature occurred hours after the midnight-Thursday deadline to prevent another government shutdown, but most government operations continued uninterrupted.

The agreement means the military would receive at least $1.4 trillion in total through September 2019 to help buy more fighter planes, ships and other equipment, boost troop strength, and beef up training—a level of funding that seemed a long shot just months ago.

But work remains as the numbers are mere top lines. Congress has until March 23, the day the fifth continuing resolution of the fiscal year ends, to finish the details. In the interim, defense programs remain funded at fiscal 2017 levels and leaders still lack the certainty to plan any more than a month ahead.

Nevertheless, defense hawks in Congress hailed the agreement as a breakthrough.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the agreement finally gives the Pentagon the “budget certainty it needs to begin the process of rebuilding the military.”

An exception to the euphoria was the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state. He said he supports more spending on the Pentagon and other agencies, but he scolded lawmakers for pushing through the measure after substantially cutting taxes.

“This legislation is like quitting your job and only then deciding that you want to buy a new house and a second car,” he complained.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., acknowledged the fiscal obstacles down the road for maintaining these spending levels, saying the package was good and bad.

“It’s like having a prime rib with prunes served with it,” he said. And while the ballooning deficit concerns him, he said he was convinced “we have to do this for the military.”

Trump followed up the agreement Monday with his fiscal 2019 budget request that includes $719 billion for defense. The top line is what Congress agreed to, but lawmakers are sure to make changes to the details.